Tesla chief Elon Musk has outlined phase two for the electric car company he started almost a decade ago.
Leading the list are new products headlined by a Model 3 based compact SUV and pickup truck.
As part of the picture, Musk says Tesla is currently focused on improved efficiency from its production facility. “A 5 to 10 fold improvement is achievable,” he says while predicting the Tesla Model 3 SUV will be manufactured as early as 2018 using processes massively improved over current ‘best-practice’ standards.
Achieving this will create lower production costs meaning the Model 3 range will be affordable and thus the entry-level Tesla vehicle.
Heavy-duty trucks and buses are also on the agenda and both are in the early stages of development.
On the truck, Musk said: “We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.”
And, for the bus lineup, Musk believes increased autonomous driving should lead to smaller passenger buses with the role of the driver transitioning to that of a ‘fleet manager’. Smaller buses with autonomous operation to match the acceleration/braking of other vehicles will mean less congestion (as Australian drivers sharing freeways with buses can attest: slow initial acceleration by buses is a major cause of delays and thus congestion).
He’s thinking of a bus with no centre aisle, seats near the doors and easy access for wheelchairs and strollers.
You will simply ask the bus to stop via an app on your telephone and, for those without phones, ‘summon buttons’ would be installed at existing bus stops.
Musk also predicts future cars which pay for themselves or even generate a profit for owners via the Tesla shared fleet. By including your vehicle in the fleet (most cars are used by their owners for less than 10 per-cent of each day) it can create income for you while you’re at work or even on holiday.
You simply summon a Tesla via the phone app and it autonomously drives to where you are.
He’s even envisaging a company-owned fleet of Tesla vehicles available for anyone in major cities.
Taking a swipe at criticism following the recent crashes involving Tesla vehicles with partial autonomous driving, Musk claims when the current system is used correctly it is already inherently safer than a car being operated by a driver.
“According to the recently released 2015 NHTSA report, automotive fatalities increased by 8% to one death every 89 million miles. Autopilot miles will soon exceed twice that number and the system gets better every day. It would no more make sense to disable Tesla’s Autopilot, as some have called for, than it would to disable autopilot in aircraft after which our system is named,” Musk revealed.
He reckons refinement and validation of the hardware and software required for worldwide regulatory approval of autonomous driving systems will require something like 10 billion kilometers of testing – and that will take much longer than the actual development and installation of the cameras, radar, sonar and computing hardware.
Then there is solar energy and Musk is looking to a future with a stylish “solar-roof-with-battery” product where everything from ordering to installation to servicing is seamless.
This will bring his other companies - Powerwall and SolarCity - together and create individual utility providers.
Outlining the next steps for his company came with a warning from Musk: “We must at some point achieve a sustainable energy economy or we will run out of fossil fuels to burn and civilization will collapse. Given that we must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better.”
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